Undoubtedly, India enters the match as favorites due to their undefeated streak during the round-robin phase, securing four victories and a draw to clinch the top spot on the points table.
Yet, India remains cautious of Japan, the sole team they haven’t managed to conquer. Their previous encounter in the league stage resulted in a 1-1 draw, reminding India of the challenge that Japan presents.
While there’s a significant disparity in the world rankings, with India holding the fourth position compared to Japan’s 19th, it’s essential for the home team to recall their loss against Japan in the 2021 edition’s semifinals in Dhaka. Despite trouncing their opponents 6-0 in the league stage, India was defeated 3-5 in the crucial match.
Asian Champions Trophy: India defeat Pakistan
India boasts the highest goal tally in the tournament thus far, with 20 goals to their credit. However, their missed opportunities against Japan in the previous league match highlight the need for improvement in their finishing, a aspect they’ll be eager to rectify when facing the same opponents on Friday.
Craig Fulton’s side could also utilise just one of the 15 penalty corners they had earned against Japan in the earlier match and they now will have to find ways to score from the PCs.
Following India’s 4-0 thrashing of arch-rivals Pakistan on Wednesday, Fulton noted that it would be vital for his side to maintain consistency in all the four quarters of the match.
“We had some good consistency in each quarter (against Pakistan), which we did the same during the Japan game. We also had more penetration into the circle in each quarter than Japan. So, it will be about maintaining consistency and not doing it just one way,” he said.
India vice-captain and midfielder Hardik Singh agreed with his coach but felt that besides the final execution inside the box, more patience would be needed to get more goals against Japan.
“We expect to carry the same momentum. But, we still need to have more patience inside the box, which is extremely important. Also, we need to set up the tempo of the game. We will be treating them (Japan) as a top team.”
As far as Japan is concerned, they sneaked into the semifinals ahead of Pakistan on better goal difference, though the two sides collected five points each. Japan had minus two goal difference as against minus five of Pakistan.
Overall, Japan’s performance in the competition has been far from convincing. They managed just a win (vs China) and lost and drawn twice.
Even though, India are favourites to win on Friday, Japan will try to take a cue from their earlier performance against the hosts.
Although Japan have impressed defensively, especially in how their defenders were tackling the Indian attackers during the penalty corners, their attacking line-up has been disappointing.
Before the India vs Japan match, second-placed Malaysia will take on third-placed and defending champions South Korea in the semifinals on Friday.
While the performance of the Koreans has nothing much to write, the Malaysians have been impressive in this competition, managing four wins and a loss.
Judging by the current form, Malaysia would start as favourite against Korea.
(With inputs from PTI)